Elevation founder Tom Whitman is Top Shelf
When Tom Whitman first decided to hold a gay ski week in Mammoth Lakes, he sent out a single email through his events company, Tom Whitman Presents, thinking he might get a few dozen attendees. He got 250. Flash-forward fifteen years, and 2,500 revelers identifying as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender and Queer), and even some who identify as plain old straight, will descend on Mammoth Mountain this year for the annual Elevation Gay Ski. It’s the third largest gay ski event in the country, surpassed only by events at Whistler and Aspen (with Aspen being the largest).
“We pretty much grown every year, with the one drought year [2014-15] being the exception,” said Whitman on Thursday, March 16 over a cup of coffee at Black Velvet.
He became enamored with Mammoth in college, when he was a ski racer for UCLA. “I just loved it. And a year later, three of us—a gay guy who worked at Intrawest, myself, and a guy who worked at Out Magazine were talking about our love of skiing and how California didn’t really have a gay ski week like some other resorts. So we modeled the vibe of Elevation after [the Whistler event]. Friendly, gregarious guys and girls coming around from all over the country and the world.”
“Unlike some other LGBT events, its not just about going to a party,” says Whitman. “There’s an activity involved. It’s a destination.”
He says that attendees range from double-black-diamond skiers to bunny slope cruisers, and some come just for the apres-ski events and skip the slopes. However, “I’d say about 90-95 percent of people who attend go out on the hill.”
Whitman has now expanded Elevation to events in Lake Tahoe and Park City, Utah, but the Mammoth event remains the big party.
“I love it, so it doesn’t feel like that much work, but it is a ton of work,” he says with a smile. “We start planning 7-8 months before the event, booking talent and DJs. Between everybody, the tech crew, dancers, and performers, about 30 people” for five days of events.
“We’ve built such huge event despite the fact that there are challenges getting to Mammoth,” said Whitman. At Wednesday’s welcome party at Lakanuki, “I met a couple from Sydney, Australia, someone who came from Miami, some people spend 10-14 hours traveling just to get here.”
And Whitman said that Mammoth has had a welcoming attitude toward the group from the event’s inception. “I have to commend the town and everybody for welcoming us from the beginning…over the years we have had some really great advocates.”
He said that during one of the first years of the event, “when we were kind of getting big, there were two cops in front of me, and they were talking about Elevation. And they said, ‘That group is amazing, not one person got into a fight!’”